Those of us who have dedicated our careers to caring for people with life-limiting illness know that hospice is about life – some of the most important moments in life. New research now confirms the benefits – financial, physical and emotional – of choosing hospice and palliative care for people facing terminal illnesses. In fact, one recent study has shown that people can actually live longer with palliative, also known as comfort, care.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that terminally ill patients who received palliative care services lived nearly three months longer and enjoyed an improved quality of life compared to those who didn’t receive the attention of a palliative care team.
Another recent study found that cancer patients who die at home with hospice services had an improved quality of life in their final days.
“When patients and their families are dealing with a terminal illness, the physical and emotional challenges can be a burden,” says Paul Rozynes, M.D., medical director for VITAS Innovative Hospice Care® of Broward County. “But hospice, with its focus on pain and symptom management and on psychological and spiritual support for patients and their families, can help to ease those burdens.
“Because hospice care typically is provided in a patient’s home, whether the home is a private residence, a nursing home or an assisted living community, the patient is able to stay in a familiar setting surrounded by family and friends,” he adds. “By treating physical symptoms and providing pain management, as well as addressing emotional and spiritual concerns, hospice can make the dying process more meaningful for patients and their loved ones.”
When There’s a Crisis, There’s Continuous or Inpatient Care
What happens when the patient has a medical crisis and experiences, for example, uncontrolled pain, intractable nausea, uncontrolled bleeding or severe confusion?
“Patients often experience acute symptoms when dealing with a terminal illness,” says Freddie Negron, M.D., VITAS senior medical director in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. “This can make it difficult for patients to continue to receive care in their residence. But when things get difficult, hospice can be there around the clock.”
VITAS offers Intensive Comfort Care (also known as continuous care), which puts a hospice professional at the patient’s bedside 24 hours a day until the crisis is resolved. But even with that option, sometimes the illness, or the family situation, makes remaining at home difficult. Even then, hospice can help – by moving the patient to an inpatient hospice unit (IPU).
“In those kinds of situations, we can move the patient to one of our IPUs for a few days, where our staff can watch him around the clock and ensure that his new medication is working,” says Dr. Negron. “Our field staff can provide the same level of care at a patient’s home, but sometimes an IPU offers a more structured environment for pain and symptom management.”
Bringing Hospice to All Those Who Choose It
“Meeting the end-of-life care needs of diverse communities and cultures can be a challenge for hospice providers,” says Jamelle June Mayugba, MD, VITAS associate medical director in Palm Beach County. “It is vitally important for all healthcare providers to receive specialized training on the unique needs of people of all faiths and cultures.”
Experience also has shown us that our nation’s military veterans have unique needs as they approach the end of life, adds Dr. Mayugba. Along with specialized training, hospice and other healthcare providers can form relationships with the local Veterans Administration, veterans groups, churches and community centers to provide hospice education and to help people better understand their options in hospice care.
By treating physical symptoms and providing pain management, as well as addressing emotional and spiritual concerns, hospice can make the dying process more meaningful for patients and their loved ones.